The Other Sister Movie Poster Image

The Other Sister



Overly sentimental movie is unlikely to interest teens.
  • Review Date: October 28, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1999
  • Running Time: 130 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

People with differences and/or disabilities deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  Loving someone asks that you give them the freedom to be their best selves. Likewise, good parenting requires that you love your children as they are, not as how you would like them to be.

Positive role models

Mentally-challenged young adults sometimes have assets and resources that may be unexpected. Given a chance to grow and flourish, some special-needs people are able to function independently and live safely. Teachers, employers, and co-workers are portrayed as supportive, helpful, and caring.


A child, upset by a group of other children who are teasing her, pushes one of them down a flight of carpeted stairs. He is not injured.


The issue of mentally-challenged young people engaging in sexual activity is a main story element. The two people involved read and study The Joy of Sex to educate themselves. "Doing it" is a repeated euphemism for intercourse. The couple kisses, undresses to their underwear, and moves off camera to make love. Another character is involved in a monogamous lesbian relationship, the acceptance of which by her family is another plot point.


Though there is no swearing or harsh language, sexual terms are used on a few occasions: "penis," "semen," "sperm," "vulva," ""doing it.""



Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some social drinking: dinner table, wedding. One main character gets drunk on two occasions and his outrageous behavior affects the story's outcome. Another character is identified as a recovering alcoholic.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film explores the challenges that a family faces when their developmentally-disabled daughter fights for independence and reacts to her own growing sexuality. The filmmakers take great care to introduce the young lovers (both of whom are mentally impaired) to sex in a mature and sensitive way. There is some kissing and they begin to undress, but with no actual nudity or foreplay. Language includes some terms associated with the human reproductive system.  "Doing it" is the only way sexual intercourse is described. A young woman is seen in bed with her female sexual partner, and their lesbianism provides a separate challenge to some members of the family. There is alcohol consumption in social settings, and the young male lead purposefully gets drunk on two occasions and misbehaves.

Kids say

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What's the story?

After a decade in a special school for developmentally-disabled kids, Carla Tate (Juliette Lewis) comes home to her upper crust family in San Francisco. As Carla struggles to assert her independence and a strong desire to find her own path, her overprotective and often insensitive mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton), tries to keep her safe, quiet, and out of the public eye. Elizabeth believes she loves her husband and children, especially Carla, but guilt, embarrassment, and pride send her in the wrong direction at nearly every turn. Carla persists, however, and with her father and sisters on her side, is allowed to enroll in a trade school where she meets with measured success and encounters Daniel McMann (Giovanni Ribisi), another mentally-challenged student. Their initial friendship changes... they fall in love. This new intimacy and the prospect of Carla becoming an autonomous adult despite her limited capacities threaten Elizabeth's control and the entire family dynamic.

Is it any good?


Despite the vibrant performances of Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi and some touching scenes between the two, THE OTHER SISTER is predictable, sentimental, and very heavy-handed. Subtlety and nuance are nowhere to be found in Garry Marshall's direction, particularly notable in the performances of Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt as Carla's father. Characters change positions in a flash and learn lessons instantaneously. What might have been grace notes (Daniel's love of marching bands and Carla's connection with animals) are instead hammered home at every opportunity.  The only virtue is a skin-deep message about accepting differences and treating even "special" people with dignity.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about some of the different ways people react to Carla's disabilities. Discuss specific family members as well as outsiders.

  • Daniel seems to have almost no family support system. What resources did he use to make a surrogate family? What does that reveal about Daniel's ability to live on his own?

  • How did Elizabeth (Carla's mother) change over the course of the movie? How did what she learned from Carla help her be a better mother to Heather?


  • How accepting and tolerant do you think people are when they come across others who have disabilities or special needs? Do you think this movie depicted the general public accurately? Do you believe everyone at Caroline's wedding would have laughed at Daniel's speech? Think about how you would have reacted.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 26, 1999
DVD release date:September 7, 1999
Cast:Diane Keaton, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis
Director:Garry Marshall
Studio:Touchstone Pictures
Run time:130 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:thematic elements involving sex related material

This review of The Other Sister was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byStepMomSterToo June 23, 2010

Good for older kids

The relationship aspects of this movie make it a great family movie for older kids, but I am a little worried about the subject of sex. If you aren't comfortable with the subject of sex becoming a topic of conversation, than avoid this movie. Other than that I think it is a great celebration of individuality and overcoming obstacles.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Great messages
Great role models


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